Monday, May 25, 2020

On Ernst Jünger, from WW1 to WW2

I started reading Storm of Steel during the first weeks of the lockdown. It was strangely therapeutic to read about the sheer savage carnage of the trenches of World War I. When one is housebound for an extended period of time, there's a peculiar pleasure in reading about problems both wildly different from and much worse than one's own minor inconveniences. It brought to mind Lloyd Blankfein's riposte to a whining Goldman employee back in the 2008 financial crisis - "You're getting out of a Mercedes to go to the New York Federal Reserve. You're not getting out of a Higgins boat on Omaha Beach."

(As a side note, I guess we now officially have to start adding "2008" to the words "financial crisis" from here on out.)

Jünger is a fascinating character. It's fair to say that if you were born in 1895 in Heidelberg, and died still in Germany 1998, you were going to have seen some s*** in the interim. You will have lived as an adult through five pretty wildly different regimes - pre-war Imperial Germany through WW1, the chaos and decadence of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazi Germany and WW2, Cold War West Germany, and finally re-unified Germany.

Especially early on, successive new regimes put the citizens somewhat in the position of Poles over the course of WW2. Each new army comes marching through, and demands loyalty from you, while lashing out at those who are deemed to have supported the last army. Then the current lot gets tossed out, and the new army takes the same attitude. Repeat enough times, and you're almost guaranteed to be on the receiving end of someone's fury. Just surviving requires a lot of luck.

So if you manage to not only survive intact in each regime, but even to be broadly celebrated in most of them, you've pulled off a pretty remarkable feat. You might do it through extreme political cunning and chicanery, trimming your sails just enough in each period. Or you might do it by talent, being someone that everyone wants to have on their side. You obviously also need a lot of luck in either case. 

Jünger was one of only eleven infantry commanders in WW1 to be awarded the Pour le Mérite, the highest military honors of the German Empire, which doesn't suggest the kind of person noted for just keeping their head down and staying out of needless danger. 

His attitude to being in the trenches on the Western front seems to approximately be that death might come at any point, often quite randomly, so you may as well be brave and fight well in the meantime, since war is an ennobling, even transcendental experience. This is the kind of attitude that a lot of people probably wish they'd have if they were actually tested, but few of us ever get to really find out. Well, Jünger sure did. As he describes at the end of the book:
"During the endless hours flat on your back, you try to distract yourself to pass the time; once, I reckoned up my wounds. Leaving out trifles such as ricochets and grazes, I was hit at least fourteen times, these being five bullets, two shell splinters, one shrapnel ball, four hand grenade splinters and two bullet splinters, which, with entry and exit wounds, left me with an even twenty scars. In the course of this war, where so much of the firing was done blindly into empty space, I still managed to get myself targeted no fewer than eleven times. I felt every justification, therefore, in donning the gold wound-stripes, which arrived for me one day."
Not only that, but almost as noteworthy is the parts left out of the story as being insufficiently interesting. Such as joining up with the French Foreign legion a year before the war, illegally, and then deserting. And then signing up to the German Army almost as soon as the war started.

Karl Marlantes' foreword gives a great summary:
"It should surprise no one that Jünger's book contains almost no political, moral, or philosophical commentary: Young men generally don't think deeply or philosophize about most things. But the lack of such commentary is not just because of the author's age; it is also because Storm of Steel was written by the type of person I call a "born warrior". Born warriors are interested in war and fighting, not philosophy or politics."
And indeed, that is how the book reads. The strongest hint of an explicitly literary bent is that Jünger manages to invent lots of colorful imagery to describe the endless aspects of shelling, bombing, and shooting. When you would otherwise have to say "and there were a buttload of terrifying shells falling at that time" roughly five hundred times during the book, managing to not repeat yourself in this regard is actually quite a feat.

But as an overall tone, Storm of Steel manages to tread a remarkable line of being very matter of fact and compelling about the scenes of carnage, but without conveying a false sense of "no big deal" type braggadocio, nor self-pitying complaint, nor adventurism for its own sake. For instance, here's one extended scene of a foray towards British lines, which I picked out at random:
"In quick time, we had crept up to the enemy barrier. Just before it, we came across a pretty stout and well-insulated wire in some long grass. I was of the opinion that information was important here, and instructed Wohlgemut to cut off a piece and take it with him. While he was sawing away at it with - for want of more appropriate tools - a cigar clipper, we heard something jingling the wire; a few British soldiers appeared and started working without noticing us, pressed as we were in the long grass.

Mindful of our hard time on the previous expedition, I breathed 'Wohlgemut, toss a hand grenade in that lot!'
'Lieutenant, shouldn't we let them work a bit more first?'
'Ensign, that was an order!'

Even here, in this wasteland, the magic words took effect. With the sinking feeling of a man embarking on an uncertain adventure, I listened to the dry crackle of the pulled fuse, and watched Wohlgemut, to offer less of a target, trundle, almost roll the grenade at the British group. It stopped in a thicket, almost in the middle of them; they seemed not to have seen anything. A flash of lightning lit up their sprawling figures. With a should of 'You are prisoners!' we launched ourselves like tigers into the dense white smoke. A desperate scene developed in fractions of seconds. I held my pistol in the middle of a face that seemed to loom out of the dark at me like a pale mask. A shadow slammed back against the barbed wire with a grunt. There was a ghastly cry, a sort of 'Wah!' - of the kind that people only produce when they've seen a ghost. On my left, Wohlgemut was banging away with his pistol, while Bartels in his excitement was throwing a hand grenade in our midst. 

After one shot, the magazine, had clicked out of my pistol grip. I stood yelling in front of a Briton who in his horror was pressing his back into the barbed wire, and kept pulling the trigger. Nothing happened - it was like a dream of impotence. Sounds came from the trench in front of us. Shouts rang out, a machine gun clattered into life. We jumped away. Once more I stopped in a crater and aimed my pistol at a shadowy form that was pursuing me. This time, it was just as well it didn't fire, because it was Birkner, whom I had supposed to be safely back long ago.

Then we raced towards our lines. Just before our wire, the bullets were coming so thick and fast that I had to leap into a water-filled, wire-laced mine crater. Dangling over the water on the swaying wire, I heard the bullets rushing past me like a huge swarm of bees, while scraps of wire and metal shards sliced into the rim of the crater. After half an hour or so, once the firing had abated, I made my way over our entanglements and leaped into our trench, to an enthusiastic reception. Wohlgemut and Bartels were already back; and another half an hour later, so was Birkner. We were all pleased at the happy outcome, and only regretted that once again our intended captive had managed to get away. It was only afterwards that I noticed that the experience had taken its toll on my nerves, when I was lying on my pallet in my dugout with teeth chattering, and quite unable to sleep. Rather, I had the sensation of a sort of supreme wakeness - as if I had a little electric bell going off somewhere in my body. The following morning, I could hardly walk, because over one knee (over other, historic injuries) I had a long scrape from the barbed wire, while the other had caught some shards from Bartels' hand grenade.

These short expeditions, where a man takes his life in his hands, were a good means of testing our mettle and interrupting the monotony of trench life. There's nothing worse for a soldier than boredom. 
There are dozens of stories like this. And by the end, one gets exactly the picture that Marlantes describes. If I were in a foxhole, I would want Ernst Jünger there beside me. 

So it was with quite some interest that I picked up Jünger's diaries from his time as a Wehrmacht officer in World War 2, primarily in Paris. What would such a man have to say about the Third Reich? Jünger was interesting in that he was a reactionary, firmly opposed to democracy during the Weimar period, but also a noted critic of the Nazis. He refused several offers to join them in the Reichstag, and quit the veteran's organization for his regiment when they expelled their Jewish members.  

Despite this, he ends up in Paris as intelligence officer. On its face, this is strange on two levels. Firstly, if he disliked the Nazis so much, how did he end up in the Wehrmacht under Hitler? This one is easy - he was conscripted. "World War 2, that sucks, if I were in Germany I would have just stayed out of it and quietly minded my own business" is the kind of pea-brained thought that seems to occur to almost every contemporary reader at some point, notwithstanding the obvious difficulty when you pause to contemplate it. 

And secondly, why an intelligence officer in a cushy gig in the Hotel Majestic in Paris? This may seem strange given how drawn he was to action as a young man, and how little he seemed to care about the side (how else do you describe joining the French Foreign Legion, and then the army fighting the French Foreign Legion a year later?). To end up as, in Gough Whitlam's memorable phrase, "a pen-pusher in Paris"? 

Reader, if you did not know in advance, you simply would not believe that the two books are written by the same person. Here's a few random samples:

Lunch at the Morands' on Avenue Charles-Floquet. There I also met Gaston Gallimard and Jean Cocteau.
Morand epitomizes a kind of worldly sybarite. In one of his books, I found a passage comparing an ocean liner with a Leviathan infused with the aroma of Chypre. His book about London is commendable; it describes the city as a great house. If the English were to build pyramids, they would include London in the decoration of their tombs.
Cocteau: amiable and at the same time, ailing, like someone who dwells in a special, but comfortable, hell. 
With intelligent women it is very difficult to overcome physical distance. It is as though they girded their alert intellects with a belt that foils desire. It is too bright within their orbit. Those who lack specific erotic orientation are more assertive. This could be one of those chess moves that ensures the continuity of our species. 
One can ask advice of a subaltern in a matter, but not regarding the ethical system fundamental to that matter.
The dignity of man must be more sacred to us than life itself.
The age of humanity is the age in which human beings have become scarce.
The true leaders of this world are at home in their graves.
In moments of inescapable disruption, individuals must proclaim their allegiance like a warship hoisting its colors.
By choosing certain circles in life, such as the Prussian General Staff, one may gain access to certain elevated spheres of inside information but exclude himself from the highest.  
To which you may wonder - how does the man who talks calmly and frankly about fiery death from above, when confronted with the Third Reich, only have the ability to talk about art, and dreams he had last night, and books, and occasional oblique references to the regime?

The answer is that in WW1, bombs might obliterate you at any point, but as long as you followed your commanding officer's orders, nobody much gave a damn what you wrote. For the Nazis, even if you were an officer, this was definitively not the case. And that's why there's so few great surviving descriptions from inside the regime (or from communist Russia, for that matter - we were very lucky to get a Solzhenitsyn, and that was decades after the crimes in question had started). As Jünger notes on October 21, 1941:
"I am keeping my personal papers and journals under lock and key in the Majestic. Because I am under orders from Spiedel to process not only the files concerning Operation Sea Lion, but also the struggle for hegemony in France between the military commander and the Party, a special steel file cabinet has been set up in my room. Naturally, armor like this only symbolizes personal invulnerability. When this is cast in doubt, even the strongest locks spring right open."
In other words, one had to play a delicate game to get enough political capital to be able to write one's own thoughts freely down on paper, and even then one must assume they will be pored over at some point. This is part of the uneasy relationship between the Nazi party itself and the German military commander in France mentioned above (and officers like Jünger ). Hitler is referred to as Kniebolo, a play on Diabolo, the devil.

Indeed, Jünger refers in a number of places to lemures. The notes describe these as "vengeful spirits in Roman mythology. E.J. uses the term to refer euphemistically to the executioners and butchers of the NS Regime. His source is Goethe's Faust where the Lemuren serve Mephistopheles as gravediggers." For instance, on March 12th, 1942:
It is said that since the sterilization and extermination of the mentally ill, the number of children born with mental illness has increased. Similarly, with the suppression of beggars, poverty has become more widespread. And the decimation of the Jews has led to the spreading of Jewish characteristics in the world, which is exhibiting an increase in Old Testament traits...
Feast Days of the lemures, including the murder of men, women and children. The gruesome spoils are hurriedly buried. Now there come other lemures to claw them out of the ground. They film the dismembered and half-decayed patch of land with macabre gusto. Then they show these films to others. What bizarre forces develop in carrion. 
Or more explicitly on the limitations on what he can say, from August 16th, 1942:
Saturday and Sunday in Vaux-de-Cernay at the house of Rambouillet, as a guest of the commander-in-chief, who is using this old monastery as his summer residence. My stay here has the advantage that I can do and say what I think is right and not be seen by any lemures.
And this category seems to include many things - Jünger's repugnance at the deportation of Jews (wikipedia mentions that "he passed on information e.g. about upcoming transports 'at an acceptable level of risk' which saved Jewish lives.), his sense that the war on the eastern front was misguided and bound to fail, and any number of other things. In the presence of a sympathetic commander-chief, you can speak freely. Otherwise, even in your journal, you had better keep your criticism measured. 
Jews were arrested here yesterday for deportation. Parents were separated from their children and wailing could be heard in the streets. Never for a moment may I forget that I am surrounded by unfortunate people who endure the greatest suffering. What kind of human being, what kind of officer, would I be otherwise? This uniform obligates me to provide protection wherever possible. One has the impression that to do that one must, like Don Quixote, confront millions. 
This shows a side of things that doesn't fit neatly into standard narratives about the Holocaust. Contra the deniers, an otherwise quite conservative Wehrmacht officer (admittedly, a well-connected intelligence officer) knew about the deportations, shootings and gassings at the time. And in his retelling, they were every bit as grotesque and cruel as we understand them today. Jünger even states that he feels that Germany's treatment of the Jews (and other targeted groups like French civilians in retaliation killings, the disabled, etc.) was so repugnant that Germany had enormous collective guilt for it.

But contra the standard narrative, he as a senior Wehrmacht officer was actively working to obstruct them in what way he felt he could. Part of the reason he felt able to do this was the fact that the German military officer in charge in Paris, Carl-Heinrich von Stulpnagel, had a similarly uneasy relationship with the Nazi Party, as evidenced by his role in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. Modernity tends to write all these people off as "Nazis", but the Wehrmacht still maintained some political independence. If the history of modern America were written by similarly uncharitable future historians, it would be like lumping all military officers in Iraq as being part of "the Republican Party" (under Bush) or even "the Democratic Party" (under Obama). 

If you're not in the presence of the commander-in-chief, you have to be more careful. On the train back from a trip to the Eastern Front in 1943, Jünger describes how one has to delicately feel out the opinions of one's audience before revealing too much:
Colonel Rathke, head of the department of military affairs, was on the train. Conversation about the situation in Rostov, which he consider reparable. Then, about the war in general. After the first three value judgments, one recognizes someone from the other camp and retreats behind polite cliches.
Of course, when one does find a fellow-thinker, one can talk much more freely. Jünger describes the conversation with General Konrad, commander of the Caucasus front. When I recalled this passage, I was sure these were Jünger's words, but looking back, no, they're him reporting someone else's sentiments, actually without comment. Prudent, as always. But when you realize the only way those sentiments could have been elicited, Jünger's feelings become clear:
The pounding suffered by the Sixth Army had shaken the entire southern flank. He was of the opinion that during the last year, our forces had been squandered by people who understood everything except how to wage war. The general continued, saying that neglect of the concentration of forces was especially dilletantish. Clausewitz would be turning in his grave. People followed their every whim, every fleeting idea: and propaganda goals trumped those of strategy. He said that we could attack the Caucasus, Egypt, Leningrad, and Stalingrad - just not all at once, especially while we were still caught up in secondary objectives.
This is a pretty damning and astute evaluation of Operation Barbarossa, especially coming from someone tasked with implementing it. If the Third Reich has an epitaph from a purely Machiavellian standpoint, it's hard to beat this one. 

Jünger also shows his skill at negotiating discussions with those more pleased with the butchery, and drawing out people's views without revealing too much. "Merline" here is Celine:
At the German Institute this afternoon. Among those there was Merline. Tall, raw-boned, strong, a bit ungainly, but lively during the discussion - or more accurately, during his monologue. He speaks with a manic, inward-directed gaze, which seems to shine from deep within a cave. He no longer looks to the right or the left. He seems to be marching towards some unknown goal. "I always have death beside me." And in saying this, he points to the spot beside his seat, as though a puppy were lying there. 

He spoke of his consternation, his astonishment, at the fact that we soldiers were not shooting, hanging and exterminating the Jews - astonishment that anyone who had a bayonet was not making unrestrained use of it. "If the Bolsheviks were here in Paris, they would demonstrate it, show how it's done - how to comb through a population, quarter by quarter, house by house. If I had a bayonet, I would know what to do."

It was informative to listen to him rant this way for two hours, because he radiated the amazing power of nihilism. People like this hear only a single melody, but they hear it uncommonly powerfully. They resemble machines of iron that follow a single path until they are finally dismantled.

It is remarkable when such minds speak about the sciences, such as biology. Them apply them the same way Stone Age man did, transforming them only into a means to slay others. 

They take no pleasure in having an idea. They have had many - their yearning drives them toward fortresses from which cannons fire upon the masses and spread fear. Once they have achieved this goal, they interrupt their intellectual work, regardless of what arguments have helped them climb to the top. Then they give themselves over to the pleasure of killing. It was this drive to commit mass murder that propelled them forward in such a meaningless and confused way in the first place.

People with such natures could be recognized earlier, in eras when faith could still be tested. Nowadays, they hide under the cloak of ideas. These are quite arbitrary, as seen in the fact that when certain goals are achieved, they are discarded like rags.

Contra Walter Sobchak, according to Jünger the tenets of National Socialism as utilized by its worst proponents ultimately did just amount to nihilism, and not to an ethos after all. For the people who glorified in the butchery, the butchery was the point. And remember, this is from a man most famous for glorifying war! But in Storm of Steel, he relishes the fight against worthy opponents. For the lemures, he has only contempt.
But strangely, most of the diary isn't about this kind of political or ethical stuff. Part of this is probably camouflage. But there's a huge amount about dreams he had, or his discussions with artists around Paris (like Picasso) and writers like Carl Schmitt and Celine. Jünger was something of a celebrity writer, having gotten uneasy attention from the regime from his novel On the Marble Cliffs in 1939, which was viewed as being critical of the Nazis. This meant he consorted a lot with various oddballs, artists, writers and freethinkers in Paris. 

Indeed, most of his Paris diary is about little else. Other than the fact of occasional air raid sirens, most of the scenes could be straight out of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris - romantic displays of life during the late Parisian Golden Age. The fact that our main protagonist is an officer of the occupying German army, but also extremely erudite and educated, just makes the whole thing even stranger. Jünger in general doesn't seem to be trying to downplay the brutal parts of the occupation, except to the extent that he can only discuss them obliquely. But if you go to his diary looking for a depiction of the widespread horrors of Vichy France for the average non-Jewish Frenchman, you won't find it here. Of course, in the famous words of Mandy Rice-Davies - he would say that, wouldn't he? Being a high ranking officer in the occupying regime in Paris, cavorting with artists and picking up women who weren't your wife, probably was a pretty good gig. If you were a poor farmer in the countryside, or a leftist artist, or a Jew? Well, that's a different matter. Still, for all that, it's hard not to be struck by how normal occupied Paris sounds, which is certainly not how people seem to imagine it. 

Part of the reason is that Jünger , for whatever reason, talks very little about his actual military work. Perhaps this is just for military secrecy. But the end result is a crazy contrast to Storm of Steel, where action was everywhere, death forever one unlucky break away, and the enormous necessity of the job always in front. Here, inaction is everywhere. It's almost like A Bohemian Wehrmacht Officer in Paris. There is no sense of any purpose at all to him being in Paris, other than getting inspiration for his writing. 

When Jünger goes to the Eastern Front, we see the old stoic acceptance of danger and risk of death briefly come back (though again, there still is no sense of what he's doing there, other than just seeing stuff). Jünger is still no coward. Indeed, when the Eastern Front post is suggested, he is concerned that he is genuinely sick and has been losing weight, but he can't just check into the infirmary right before he's meant to be shipped off to the Caucasus. When he trades a Paris hotel for a frigid railway station room in some tiny town in the Caucasus, he describes the privations, but without any sense of complaint. Indeed, he describes how much worse the situation is for soldiers actually on the front. 

One also gets the sense that combat is very much a young man's game. Because while the war in question has changed an enormous amount (Jünger memorably says that the Eastern Front seemed to more resemble the 30 Years War than WW1), it's also true that Jünger himself is different. Radically so. It's hard not to wonder what a Jünger who had been born 20 years later and ended up as a lieutenant on the Eastern Front would have thought of it all. I guess we'll never know. 

But the Jünger who actually lived through it is occasionally strident and unsparing. For Anglos, WW2 is the good war, the one Hollywood always wants to portray, whereas WW1 is the pointless butchery. For Jünger , the opposite is true:
New Year's Even party at Staff Headquarters in the evening. Here again I saw that during these years any pure joy of celebration is not possible. On that note General Muller told about the monstrous atrocities perpetrated by the Security Service after entering Kiev. Trains were again mentioned that carried Jews into poison gas tunnels. Those are rumors, and I note them as such, but extermination is certainly occurring on a huge scale. This puts me in mind of the wife of good old Potard back in Paris, who was so worried about his wife. When you have been party to such individual fates and begun to comprehend the statistics that apply to the wicked crimes carried out in the charnel houses, an enormity is exposed that makes you throw up your hands in despair. I am overcome by a loathing for the uniforms, the epaulettes, the medals, the weapons, all the glamour I have loved so much. Ancient chivalry is dead; wars are waged by technicians. Mankind has thus reached the stage described by Dostoevsky in Raskolnikov. He views people like himself as vermin. That is precisely what he must guard against if he is not to sink to the level of the insects. That terrible old saying applies to him as well as to his victims: "This is you."

Outside of the Holocaust, the rest of the Eastern front story is also still full of grotesque suffering. 
Detail: Russian prisoners Maiweg had selected from all various camps to work on the reconstruction - drilling technicians, geologists, local oil workers. A combat unit had been commandeered at a railroad station as bearers. There were five hundred men; of these three hundred and fifty died along the roads. From the rest, another hundred and twenty died from exhaustion when they returned so that only thirty survived.


I was a guest of the commander...He spoke of police tactics with the attitude of a gamekeeper, for example. "I consider the view quite erroneous that the thirteen and fourteen-year-old youths captured with the partisans should not be liquidated.Anyone who has grown up that way, without a father or a mother, will never turn out well. A bullet is the only right thing. By the way, that's what the Russians do with them too." Citing evidence, he told an anecdote about a sergeant who had picked up a nine-year-old and a twelve-year-old lad overnight out of pity; in the morning, he was found with his throat cut. 

Oof. Every bit of that story is grim and depressing. As Gary Brecher put it, even as a War Nerd, it is hard to get excited about the Eastern Front. 

WW1, for all its horrors, was unusually kind to civilians by world historical standards, even those caught up nearby. WW2, certainly by the end, reverted more to ancient type - butchery, extermination, and few distinctions between civilian and military targets. 

Indeed, just because Jünger agrees with modernity about the evils of the Nazis doesn't mean he agrees  on everything else. In particular, the straightforward descriptions of the effects of Allied bombing raids do not make for very edifying reading for those raised on the heroism of the American and British cause in WW2. 
Schaer also said that the last attack on Western Germany cost sixteen thousand lives in a single night. The images are becoming apocalyptic; people are seeing fire raining down from heaven. This is actually an incendiary compound of rubber and phosphorus that is inextinguishable and inescapable as it engulfs all forms of life. There are stories of mothers who have been seen flinging their children into rivers. This hideous escalation of atrocities has produced a kind of nightmare. 

Krause was in Hamburg during the bombardment and reported that he saw twenty charred corpses leaning close together across the wall of a bridge there, as if they were lying on a grill. On this spot people covered in phosphorus had tried to save themselves by leaping into the water, but they were carbonized before they could do so. He told of a woman who was seen carrying an incinerated corpse of a child in each arm. Krause, who carries a bullet deep in his heart muscle, passed a house were phosphorus was dripping from the low roof. He heard screams but was unable to help - this conjures up a scene from the Inferno or some horrific dream. 
We also spoke of phosphorus as a weapon. It seems that we actually possessed this material when we enjoyed air superiority, but we waived that option. That would be to our credit, and in light of Kniebolo's character, bizarre enough. 

Or in Kirchorst near Hanover:
Was in the city in the afternoon. The ruins are new and have been hardest hit; the thrashing has been followed by the scorpion's sting. The southern part of the city was burning. Coal cellars were aglow and roofs were collapsing in showers of sparks in houses on Podbielskistrasse and on Alte Celler Heerstrasse, where I used to ride my bicycle. Nobody notices the fires anymore; they are just part of the scene. On the corners the homeless were packing up their salvaged possessions in bedsheets. I saw a woman come out the door of a house holding a chamber pot in her hand; little more than a fragment was still attached to its handle. Huge craters surrounded the railway station, where the equestrian statue of King Ernst August still stood in front of the bare, empty halls. Two entrances of the great air raid bunker where twenty-six thousand people had sought shelter, had been buried in debris. The ventilation system worked only sporadically, making the trapped crowd start to tear their clothes from their bodies and scream for air in the first stages of suffocation. God protect us from mousetraps of this sort.
What? Did you think that, because your granddad heroically risked his life to be a bomber pilot over Nazi Germany, the results would therefore be pleasing to see up close? Why should this sausage factory look any prettier from the inside than any other one? Be honest, you'd never even heard of the bombing of Hanover. In the scheme of World War 2, it just doesn't rate a mention. One way or another, nobody much cares about the suffering of German civilians in World War 2. Collective guilt for thee, but not for me. 

Jünger understood this perfectly well, and while he doesn't mince his words with the horrendous effects of Allied bombing, he doesn't shy away from German collective guilt either. In this respect, he's like Solzhenitsyn. But if you expected that his frank portrayal of German collective guilt over their atrocities would slip easily into him excusing allied collective guilt over their atrocities, you'd be quite mistaken:
We have to keep in mind that this carnage elicits satisfaction in the world. The situation of the German is now like what the Jews experienced inside Germany. Yet it is still better than seeing the Germans with their illegitimate power. Now one can share their misery.
The group that gets the most strikingly different treatment from the standard narrative, however, are the Parisians who tried to be friends with individual members of the occupying government. The stereotype of any Frenchman even vaguely supportive of the occupying German forces ranges from "repulsive Nazi sympathizer" to "regrettable go-along-to-get-along coward". Indeed, Jünger is scathing of Frenchmen like Celine/"Merline" who support the Nazis because they're sticking it to the Jews. But he describes a class of Frenchmen who had friendly association with the occupying Germans primarily out of a desire to put behind them the centuries of animosity between France and Germany, and just to take individuals as they found them and be friends with the nice ones. These people of course were treated extremely harshly in the aftermath of the German evacuation:
[Dr Gopel] reported that Drieu La Rochelle had shot himself in Paris. It seems to be a law that people who support intercultural friendship out of noble motives must fall, while the crass profiteers get away with everything. They say that Montherlant is being harassed. He was still caught up in the notion that chivalrous friendship is possible; now he is being disabused of that idea by louts.  
None of this should mean that Jünger is surprised that lots of Parisians loathe him and the government, and he describes such loathing quite honestly. This is inevitable when you're an occupying government that turned up riding tanks. But so were the Americans! How do you think they turned up? That doesn't make them moral equals, but it surely complicates the simple narrative that you should always resist foreign occupation. The main involvement of the Allies for the first several years of his time in Paris is periodically bombing and destroying bits of the city. This anecdote, however, stood out, if you're wondering why Paris is still beautiful today, whereas most of Germany is an architectural monstrosity:
Kniebolo's strict order to blow up the bridges over the Seine and leave a trail of devastation behind had not been carried out. It appears that among those courageous souls who resisted this desecration, Spiedel was in the forefront right beside Choltitz
And in an eerily correct prediction of 20th century architecture, Jünger saw in 1942 which way the wind was blowing:
Today, France still enjoys this advantage of traditions passed down from hand to hand, and will certainly retain these thanks to its largely rational policies. But what is important in this country at the moment is that its old haunts, the cities, will not be plowed under and on its ruins chain stores from Chicago would be built - which is what will happen to Germany. 
Chain stores from Chicago were indeed built over the ruins of Germany, and the results were every bit as aesthetically unedifying as Jünger predicted. Paris was indeed largely spared.

Jünger doesn't describe almost anything about the allied cause, either American or Russian (or the German cause very much either, for that matter). In this respect, it resembles Storm of Steel. The almost total lack of discussion of Communism is an interesting dog that didn't bark, though I'm not sure what to make of it. Admittedly, he wasn't in a position to experience this firsthand. You have to write what you know. As a reader, you have to read both sides. To understand the sides in the Eastern Front, start with Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, and then follow it up with A German Officer in Occupied Paris. Jünger's criticisms of the Nazis on their own are less surprising to a modern audience. The big surprise is just hearing them coming from the author of Storm of Steel. While he doesn't dwell on it, his disgust at Hitler and his regime doesn't mean he feels that Germany as a nation had no legitimate grievances with the rest of Europe. As he describes it:
Our Fatherland is like a poor man whose just cause has been usurped by a crooked lawyer.
He never spells out what that just cause was, in his opinion, so I guess we'll never know. 

Once Paris was evacuated, Jünger had the good fortune to be dismissed from the army, partly due to him being viewed with suspicion due to being friends with, and possibly inspiring, a number of the members of the July 20 plot to kill Hitler (even though he himself was not involved). As noted in the foreword, one of his biographers claims that Jünger was scheduled to be called before the Nazi People's Court, which would have been a death sentence, but only the complete chaotic collapse of Germany saved him. 

Despite being very close to the Nazi chopping block himself, Jünger was denounced at the end of the war as being too sympathetic to the Nazis, and viewed with suspicion for a number of years. 

But how could it be otherwise, to thread such a tiny needle hole and come out the other side intact?

The journey from Storm of Steel to A German Officer in Occupied Paris is a strange and grim one. Every time I read these books, especially Storm of Steel, it's hard not to get to the end and think how many Jüngers from countries all over Europe were standing one foot in the wrong direction, and got torn to shreds with their story untold, on the battlefields of the Somme, and Stalingrad, and Ypres. 
It is a hugely sad and depressing thought. 

And, indeed, it is the strongest riposte to Storm of Steel itself.


  1. A very good post.

    Junger is far easier to understand if you think of him as an "old European" and not simply as a German. If you ever get the chance, I'd strongly recommend Diary of a Man in Despair by Reck-Malleczewen. It's comes at the Nazi's from a similar perspective.

  2. Interesting, thanks for the recommendation.

    Yeah, politically I think you're quite right - he comes across as much closer to someone like Hindenburg. Part of what's strange though is the sense of him also ending up as a magical realism author, which doesn't seem to quite map to either "Old European" or the apparent personality of the author of Storm of Steel.